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© Traci Moss 1998

As you sit in your chair right now, someone somewhere is looking for a place to rest awhile without someone telling them that they have to "move along". It's hard to fathom that there are homeless people walking down the streets of your suburb as you read this, but it's true.

I myself, was one of the uninformed until I met some of the many homeless and got to know them. I learned that they are people who have mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Some are even parents of grown children, but you would never guess.

It all started as a school project that I thought was dumb. The whole week before I had to appear at the homeless shelter, I repeatedly asked myself, "How can I go to a shelter and look into those people's eyes?" For me it wasn't the fact that I was scared, I just separated myself from "them." I figured that since it could never happen to me, I didn't have to be there. It was just a dumb project, or so I thought.

When the night finally came I got ready, keeping in mind that these people were bums with torn clothes, ratty hair, and no educational background. I tried not to look too good because I began to feel ashamed that I had a selection of clean clothes to choose from. I was scared that they would think that I was acting superior to them. So, finally choosing some jeans and a sweatshirt, I set out on my school project thinking that at the very most I would have some good stories to bring home to my friends.

What I found when I arrived there was not what I expected. Those people were laughing and having a good time, eating, being thankful, and catching up with friends that they had met during their stay on the street. They included me in their conversations and asked me questions about school and told me about themselves. The people that I talked with that night were amazing. Despite their position, most of them were still concerned about the others around them. They were as cheerful as they could be and tried to keep a good attitude about their situation. These people were mainly optimistic about how they were going to get this job or rent that apartment.

Many told me stories about themselves, their situations, and their memories. They showed me pictures of the kids that they can't see because their "ex" won't let their kids see a bum. They also told me about the discrimination they received because of their homeless status. I learned how hard it is to get a job. When you are homeless, even McDonalds won't hire you.

The person I remember most was John. He had a delicate, quiet way of talking that earned my interest and respect the minute he asked me my name. He had been fired from his job at a "top notch computer firm", as he put it. He was a victim of downsizing. He told me he had kids who lived not too far away, and parents who were in a nursing home in the next town. When I worked up the courage to ask him why he didn't tell any of his family that he was homeless, all he could say was that he didn't want to bother them with his problems.

Anna told me that when her abusive boyfriend found out that she was pregnant he kicked her out on the street. She had moved from another state to be with him and now she was stranded in a strange state with no friends to turn to. Nobody would help her get home to her family so she was forced to stay in the shelter until she could find a way home. By the time I talked to Anna she did have friends, homeless friends that she didn't want to leave. She felt a bond that she knew would break as soon as she got home, so she was reluctant to go. She was torn between her new friends and home.

One man I met that night, Tom, was a chemistry teacher. He had been fired from his teaching career for one reason or another, I never learned the reason. He amazed me with his understanding of chemistry and his ability to make learning seem bearable. That night he gave me some pointers on how to study for a test. Later, on other visits, as we became better acquainted, he tutored me and helped me pass the Chemistry class I was taking.

By the time that night was over, I learned more than I did in that entire semester of Contemporary Issues. I learned that homeless people are real and that I care what happens to them. Now, when I see a homeless person while walking down the street, I take a minute and say "Hi" instead of tossing a dime at them. It's friends that they need the most, not loose change that they aren't welcome to spend in the local grocers.

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© Joan-Marie Moss and 1999-2017